Rebecca’s Take

May is the traditional beginning of the summer movie season. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues to play havoc with the movie calendar, there’s no comic book movie in theaters to anoint the start. That spot would have gone to Marvel’s “Black Widow,” which was pushed back from its scheduled Friday release date to July 9.

However, for those of you ready to go back to the movie theater, Guy Ritchie’s “Wrath of Man” is game to satisfy your moviegoing itch. Take 2 Blog returned to the cinema for the revenge-heist flick. The intense actioner delivers an adrenaline-charged thrill ride that will keep you on the edge of your theater seat.

Ritchie’s latest film follows the mysterious H (Jason Statham), who starts working for an armored truck company in Los Angeles that moves around large sums of cash. The firm, Fortico, was recently hit hard by a deadly theft. When another attempted heist targets the truck H is in, the guard dispatches the would-be thieves in minutes after barely passing his physical.

As the motivations driving Fortico’s newest employee come to light, H is unwillingly drawn into a plot to rob a cash truck by a mole inside the company.

“Wrath of Man” unfolds like a puzzle, putting a fresh spin on what would otherwise be a standard shoot ’em up thriller. The film’s structure takes an inciting incident and shows it from different perspectives, with the narrative moving backward and forward in time to show how the pieces come together. The effective storytelling choice prevents the film from becoming a rote entry in the genre.

Known for his cinematic flair, Ritchie creates a grounded actioner. There’s few of his trademark, clever one-liners in favor of breathless, heart-pumping action. The thriller ramps up the tension from one sequence to the next. The methodical rollout of revelations builds up to the relentless climax as the inside job goes down. The flick reveals the plan for the final heist while it’s happening instead of beforehand, changing up the genre formula. After not having been to the theater in months, I was holding my breath throughout the last act.

The action is well-shot throughout, starting with the initial cash truck robbery gone wrong. But as good as the film looks, “Wrath of Man” lacks Ritchie’s stylistic flourishes from his more sensational films. The thriller embraces a gritty approach as compared to his over-the-top “Sherlock Holmes” films, of which I’m a big fan. Make no mistake: “Wrath of Man” is a very violent film. There are lots of headshots, some with blood spurting out. A brutal interrogation scene had me feeling queasy.

The film showcases Jason Statham doing what he does best: being a bona fide action star. “Man of Wrath” marks his fourth film with Ritchie, after “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch” and “Revolver.” And at 53 years old, Statham shows no signs of slowing down. Whether he’s wielding a gun, firing off shots or fighting off bad guys, Statham exerts a disciplined physicality that makes him fearsome. As H, Statham portends an icy demeanor that masks his quest for revenge. Though his motive is a simple one, Statham plays H as a layered character, with a moral code of sorts. He’s the only character the movie makes an effort to explore, and the only one the audience cares about.

Statham is surrounded by an impressive cast of supporting players, including the always reliable Andy Garcia and Eddie Marsan. The bullish Holt McCallany stands out as Bullet, a co-worker at Fortico who welcomes H to the crew but grows suspicious of his cash truck partner. It’s nice to see Josh Hartnett as Boy Sweat Dave (yes, that’s his name), a tough-talking driver who falls apart when things go sidewise. The calm and collected Jeffrey Donovan plays an important role as a sergeant readjusting to civilian life. Post Malone even pops up as a robber, adding to his action credentials after last year’s “Spenser Confidential.”

But keep your eyes on Scott Eastwood. “The Longest Ride” and “Fate of the Furious” actor is downright chilling as Jan, a deranged ex-soldier with a growing bloodlust. The actor channels his legendary father, Clint Eastwood, as he takes on a darker role.

As tense as “Wrath of Man” is, the film feels its two-hour length. After a slow start, the film finds its footing. But about halfway through, the movie starts showing different perspectives of the same incident. Though the method works in terms of storytelling, it feels like you’re watching the first act all over again.

The film also lacks in character development. Though the Fortico crew is likeable, we never find out much about them. Most of the characters are expendable for the sake of the film’s revenge plot.

As the summer movie season opens, “Wrath of Man” gets the job done. With an intriguing narrative and intense action, the revenge-heist thriller brings something new to the genre, though not without flaws. The heart-stopping film features Statham at his best, which should satisfy longtime fans. Ritchie fans may appreciate the director’s commitment to a more-grounded actioner.

If “Wrath of Man” is the film that lures you back to the theater, strap in and enjoy the ride.

3.5 out of 5 stars

From left, Holt McCallany, Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett and Rocci Williams star in “Wrath of Man,” a film by Guy Ritchie. (Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures via AP)

Joe’s Take

A Jason Statham movie brings a certain set of expectations. Good or bad, I always expect a Statham film to entertain. I expect a few awesome martial arts scenes. I expect Statham’s character to be at least likeable. In “Wrath of Man,” none of those expectations come to fruition. As a result, “Wrath of Man” joins the pack of fine but forgettable action movies.

The frustration with the film is that it starts so well. A crew robs an armored truck and director Guy Ritchie shoots the entire sequence from the vehicle. Soon after, the mysterious Patrick Hill, nicknamed H (Statham), gets a job as an armored truck transporter. Trained by Bullet (Holt McCallany), Statham gets the lay of the land with the audience. The film introduces the viewers to a lot of the characters. This early character development is where the film thrives. “Wrath of Man” takes the audience into the locker room to show the culture of the armored truck drivers. Everyone in the locker room is out to prove he is the most “manly,” including the lone woman, and the inappropriate banter comes with it. It fits the film so well, and that’s when Statham and McCallany shined brightest.

Then the characters find out what the audience already knows, H has a dark background as he single-handedly takes out a team of robbers. The film establishes H hopes to find the crew that pulled the job to start the film. Also, the audience knows his motivation — revenge. The opening raid establishes the crew shot and killed a civilian. So, it takes us back to the opening scene from the perspective of H, who sees his son executed before taking a few bullets himself. After that, the film tries to do too much, absolutely destroying the momentum it built.

H isn’t the wholesome man with a dark past the movie sold. He’s in fact the head of a crime syndicate who brutally tortures others in an attempt to find his son’s killers. Suddenly the film’s protagonist is also evil. That’s fine because antiheroes can work, but it just falls short in this film because it built H’s early charisma. Now, that charisma is gone.

The film also spends a lot of time giving backstory on the crew H is after. Then the film’s third act kicks in with many speed bumps along the way. The crew looks to raid the security agency H works for and the script goes for the technique of telling the audience part of the plan and then showing what happened. So the audience watches the action, then the action stops to go back to the crew explaining the next part of the plan. Then the action continues and stops, continues and stops. Meanwhile, the audience knows what’s coming because the crew just explained it to us. This start-stop action slowed the third act to a crawl.

This film’s concept needs simplicity. H doesn’t need a long backstory. The crew doesn’t need a long backstory. Just get to it. Take 2014’s “John Wick” for instance. The basic premise is a man seeks revenge because someone killed his dog. The film gives the audience a little more information that Wick’s dead wife left him the dog as a way to help grieve properly. He is also the best and scariest assassin in the world. They establish that in a matter of 10 minutes in “John Wick,” which then spends most of its energy building a cool world and unique gun fu action sequences. “Wrath of Man” takes so long to set up its characters, giving the audience information it doesn’t need. The viewers know all the pertinent information for the revenge thriller. A man seeks vengeance for the death of his son. The film didn’t need much more than that, but it decided to bog itself down with unimportant details.

The pieces were there with a stylistic director like Ritchie to create unique action sequences. The talent was there with a martial arts and charismatic actor like Statham. McCallany gives a strong performance, and Scott Eastwood (Jan) steps out of his usual bland comfort zone to perfectly embody an unhinged character. It develops characters effectively in the first act and squanders that momentum the rest of the way with unnecessary details and a third act that feels stuck in traffic.

2.5 out of 5 stars